South Plainfield, NJ - Those itching for some baseball will get a chance to watch some with the Last Dance World Series starting this week.
The over 200-team tournament featuring plenty of high school talent across the state is being run by the United States Specialty Sports Association and is not technically a high school tournament or sanctioned by the NJSIAA. It is considered a youth tournament. The tournament is giving players who couldn’t play on the diamond this past spring due to COVID-19 a chance to do so together.
Teams are broken up into two big regions - North and South - and then placed at locations nearby geographically for pool play (Groups 1-16 A/B) and in mini brackets for the single-elimination games.
South Plainfield is a member of the North Brunswick Regional (16B) at Community Park. The Tigers will begin their run against Middlesex County Vo-Tech on Tuesday, July 14 at 5:45 p.m. Spotswood will take on the Middlesex Blue Jays at 8:15.
Pool play runs three days from the 14th-16th and the Tigers cannot wait.
“Once the word of this tournament began gaining traction our seniors were really rooting for it to become approved,” head coach Anthony Guida said. “They are all eager to get going.”
Guida said that they did not practice as a team, but the players (full roster below) got individual reps in leading up to the tournament.
“It’s not ideal to not have a team practice, but we will make the most of the opportunity presented to us,” he said.
Organized by St. Joseph (Metuchen) head baseball coach and Athletic Director Mike Murray, the Last Dance will be the first athletic event held in the Garden State since March due to COVID-19. The NJSIAA spring season was cancelled.
After pool play, the Sweet 16 and Elite 8 for the North and South Regions will take place on July 21 and July 22, respectively. The Final Four for each region will be held on July 28 and July 29. The overall final will be on July 31. All dates are subject to change due to weather.
The single-elimination rounds will be played at home stadiums of minor league clubs in the state including TD Bank Ballpark (Somerset Patriots), Skylands Park (Sussex County Miners), Yogi Berra Stadium (New Jersey Jackals), and FirstEnergy Park (Lakewood Blue Claws).
Arm & Hammer Stadium in Trenton, home of the New York Yankees’ Class AA affiliate the Trenton Thunder, will host the championship game.
For the tournament, there are a few different rules such as 11 batters can step up to the plate and there are unlimited defensive substitutions. There are also no pitch count or innings limits and umpires will be located in different positions on the field.
Every player, coach, and umpire will have their temperatures taken upon arrival and players and coaches have to wear masks in the dugout and keep their social distance as much as possible. Fans have been asked to arrive no more than 15 minutes before first-pitch and keep their distance down the lines.
“Most parents are open to their sons to just get out there and compete,” Guida said.”They all already are putting in their own safety measures and are willing to cooperate with anything else to ensure the opportunity to see their sons play. The fact that these seniors’ final high school season was ripped from them is nothing sort of devastating.”
While the premise of the tournament is to just give the kids a chance to play ball, it's still a competition and South Plainfield wants to win it all.
“I can only imagine each player on each of the 222 teams competing in the tournament have the goal of winning this whole thing,” Guida said. “We are no different. We felt in March we were going to compete at a high level in May and June (during the normal NJSIAA season). Then life dealt us all an usual hand. We all took it in stride. We are very grateful to give our boys a unique opportunity.
“We can now look forward to Tuesday and make the most of it. We know anything can happen in three games. We will take nothing for granted and play hard.
For the full pool play schedule, click here. TAPinto South Plainfield will have you covered and updated on how the Tigers fare in the tournament.
South Plainfield Last Dance Roster
Brody Donovan - C
Jordan Hamberg - P/OF
Sam Nieves - C/OF
Cooper Smith - SS
Cody Hunterton - INF
Dylan DeLisa - P/OF/INF
Josiah Harvey - C/INF/OF
Vincent Esposito - P/INF
Brandon Shine - INF
Kyle Griswold - C/OF
Kennedy Ferguson - P/OF
Dan McLeod - P/1B
Mitchell Dudak - P/1B
Austin Scott - P/OF
Nick DellaSala - OF
Nick Loniewski - OF
Troy O'Connor - P/INF
Luke Bickunas - C/1B
Follow Chris Nalwasky on Twitter @ChrisWasky.